by Brette McWhorter Sember
Although most children today do not live in a home with both of their biological parents, many schools still act as if all of their students do. Whether your child spends most of his or her time at your home, or at the other parent's home, you probably want to be informed and stay involved with your child's education. Unfortunately, many schools make this a challenge.
If your divorce or custody agreement is still being worked out, ask your attorney whether a clause can be inserted that specifically gives both parents access to school records and information. This clause can be your documentation if there is ever a question about who should receive information.
And even if you present this, some schools are still flummoxed about how to handle it. Their database might only support one mailing address per child. You must stress that you have a right to the information and it is their responsibility to figure out how to provide it.
Once you and the other parent have physically separated, let the school know. Give them both addresses and phone numbers and ask that notices, report cards, and other information be sent to both addresses. If they have any problem with this request, show them your divorce or custody judgment that spells out your right to access all information.
While this will ensure you both receive important notifications, it is not enough to keep both of you involved on a day to day basis. Most school information is not sent by mail, but is instead sent home with your child. For example, if your child is at your home Monday through Thursday and with the other parent every Friday after school, a notice sent home on Friday about things the child needs to bring the following Tuesday is not going to come directly to you.
To deal with these kinds of problems, it is a good idea to develop a plan with the other parent that will allow you to share all information that comes home with the child. Whoever is with the child after school will read all the papers and fax a copy to the other parent, pass along a photocopy, or send the original after reviewing it. This will make sure that both of you have all the information.
Doing this does require you to make a commitment to keeping the other parent informed, however once you realize it is a two way street, you’ll have the incentive to share information.
If you play games with school information you're not punishing the other parent, you're punishing your child. Even if you don't have the greatest relationship with your child's other parent, that parent is an important part of your child's life and deserves to have the chance to be involved.
Homework is trouble spot for many families. Consider making a rule that whichever parent is with the child that day is responsible for making sure that assignments that come home on that day are completed. Some non-custodial parents feel that children should not have to do homework when they are with them.
What children really need is two parents who are involved with the child's life and committed to his or her success. Helping a child with homework is another way to show you care and to be a part of the child's life. It might not seem like fun, but it's important for parents and kids to share fun times as well as everyday times.
For long range assignments such as projects, you might wish to decide that each of you will handle supervision of tasks you are most comfortable with. For example, many dads like to do projects that involve construction and moms might prefer to help with art projects or cooking. You shouldn't feel bound by gender stereotypes though and should follow your own interests and skills.
Working on projects might mean changing around your parenting schedule. If you see your child alternate weekends and are going to be helping him build a volcano that actually works, you may need to schedule some time before your next regular weekend in order to get it done.Remember that the visitation schedule is supposed to benefit your child, not lock everyone into an immovable plan.
When you schedule parent teacher conferences you may wish to go together, or you may wish to schedule separate times. Whatever is most comfortable for you should be the option you choose. Most teachers are willing to handle things either way. Many will also do a conference with you over the phone if you can't attend an in person meeting.
The most important thing you can do to stay involved in your child's school life is to communicate directly with the teacher. Tell him or her you are divorced and stress that both of you want to be involved and informed. Your teacher wants your child to succeed and knows that in order to do so, both parents need to be supportive and informed.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of:
- The Divorce Organizer & Planner
- The Complete Divorce Handbook: A Practical Guide
- How to Parent with Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child's Best Interest
- No-Fight Divorce: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation.
Learn more about Brette on her web site.
Copyright © Brette McWhorter Sember. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.